Published on September 18th, 2017 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


Continental showed ContiSense and ContiAdapt at Frankfurt

From camera-based rearview mirrors to engines and transmissions that can adapt to the terrain ahead based on GPS and other information, many traditional car parts have gone high-tech. But tires haven’t really changed much since the advent of the automobile. The last radical change to where the rubber meets road was when steel-belted radial tires were introduced almost 70 years ago.

At the Frankfurt Auto Show last week, Continental showed two tech-based tire concepts—ContiSense and ContiAdapt—that could change the way we ride on rubber.

ContiSense uses sensors embedded in specially developed, electrically conductive rubber to constantly measure tread depth and temperature and send the info to an in-car receiver. Of course, inflation pressure is already measured on all newer cars via the mandatory Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). But a car’s TPMS only warns of reduced pressure, whereas ContiSense can immediately tell a driver when the tire has been punctured.

Continental plans to evolve ContiSense, which could be on the market in five years, so that it can also send information about road surfaces, including temperature and the presence of snow or water, to the car or a driver’s smartphone via Bluetooth. That’s where ContiAdapt comes in and tires get even more technically advanced.

The small patch of rubber that contacts the road and a car rides on has almost as much impact on acceleration, braking, and cornering as some mechanical parts, and can greatly affect fuel economy. Tires also need to be physically switched for safety’s sake in places where winter weather is a factor.

The holy grail for tires is if a single circle of rubber could be adjusted on the fly to adapt to various driving styles and weather conditions and dynamically adapt for optimal fuel economy. ContiAdapt gets closer to this ideal by using micro-compressors integrated into a wheel with a variable-width rim to alter the tire pressure accordingly.

This allows changing the size of a tire’s contact patch to suit different driving modes and road conditions. A smaller contact patch formed by increasing the tire pressure creates lower rolling resistance and thus more energy-efficient driving on roads that are smooth and dry. But a larger contact patch caused by lowering tire pressure delivers better grip on slippery roads, and the pressure could be lowered even more to help a vehicle maneuver better, say, in deep snow or on icy roads without having to get out of the car to let air out of the tires in the middle of a blizzard.

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